Kentucky, 1996

I grew up eating generic cereal and milk past the expiration date.  I grew up with toys from the same dollar store we hid in during a tornado warning.  We had a Jeep that blew fumes into the ozone that ran down the line--it was my mom's car, then my brother's, my sister's.  It stopped running the month I got my license.  I took my sister's old Pontiac she bought for $500 from a Mennonite family down the road.

I swam in old flannel shirts and used to wear a belt with my sweatpants in kindergarten.  One birthday I got a compass, another a letter from my mother telling me how much she loved me. She decorated the margins with small daisies she used to doodle for me.  I wore glasses from Wal-Mart, thirteen dollars a pair, when I couldn't make out the words on the chalkboard.  It stressed me out so much I developed an ulcer.

We lived economically when I was younger, my dad worked the night shift most years.  He'd sleep during the day and we would play by ourselves in the summer.  There were piles of bricks in our backyard in Kentucky.  Nails, too.  My brother stepped on one when he was thirteen and it bled through his sock.  He never told my dad at the time, he didn't want to wake him up.  My brother still has the scar and I think of his eldest-son stoicism as he wiped the blood off the linoleum kitchen floor and held the heel until the bleeding stopped.  

My dad only woke up for water in the summer.  He had to be back to work by eight, right after dinner.  When my mother watched us on the weekends, we'd sit in our pajamas and she'd tell us about her day.  Emotional, lovable, and laughing, that's how my mom would tell stories.  She never made us feel poor, she would only ever make us feel important, engaged, part of her small world of three children and a nine to five at a grocery warehouse outside of Lexington, Kentucky.  

And in those days when things were tight, just like all the Midwestern women before her, she'd get creative with food.  Nothing could go to waste, we couldn't afford that luxury of a full trash can and an empty fridge.  Leftover chicken was soup the next day, same with the pot roast from last week.  We'd have breakfast for dinner when the eggs were going bad and I remember once eating rice with sugar and milk as a dessert.  If she bought fruit for our paper bag lunches, they'd find their way into other manifestations.  Cherries on vanilla yogurt.  Small-batch grape jam.  And the banana that browned on the kitchen counter all week from the hot Kentucky sun would soon be smashed down into banana bread.  It became so common in our house, my sister would ask for it instead of a birthday cake.

The homespun aroma of the quick bread would fill our home and I can still feel the heat coming off the cast iron loaf pan when I'd pinch crumbs from the cracked top to taste it.  I still remember how much love was in that little ranch house where my sister's room had the washer and dryer in it.  I still remember what my mom wrote in her note to me when she couldn't afford a present for my birthday. "Brett, you're the one good thing I've ever done. I miss you every day. In my heart and on my mind, I love you." 

Banana Bread Cinnamon Rolls

Because it's never good to let things go to waste and if you're like me, you probably have a few bananas you promise you'll eat before they brown.  These cinnamon rolls are light, chewy and delicate with an amazingly yeasty taste.  It's a taste of home you can have anytime.  Makes 16-18.

Ingredients for Dough:

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, dark
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup water, heated to 105*F
  • 2 packets of active dry yeast (highly prefer  Red Star Platinum Superior Baking Yeast for this recipe) 
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 5-6 cup all-purpose flour, sifted into a large bowl
  • 1/2 stick butter, melted

Directions for Dough:

  1. In a small saucepan, heat milk, brown sugar, and salt together on medium-high heat.  Stir occasionally until brown sugar and salt are dissolved (brown sugar may still have some flecks, this is okay). Continue cooking until small bubbles form around the edge.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  2. While this is cooking, pour hot water, white sugar, and 2 packets of yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment.  Allow to sit for 8-10 minutes until it begins to foam from proofing (more noticeable with a higher-quality yeast, such as Red Star's).  
  3. Beat eggs one at a time into the yeast mixture on medium speed, allowing the first egg to be fully incorporated before the second.  
  4. Next, with the mixture still running, slowly pour cooled milk mixture into the stand mixture.
  5. Switch from a paddle attachment to a dough hook (keep in mind that this can all be done by hand with a wooden spoon, but may take longer and may not produce a lighter end product)
  6. Begin pouring flour into mixer slowly, one cup at a time.  Between each cup, wet dough with melted butter.  You may not need the full six cups, but dough will be ready when it no longer sticks to the side of the bowl and forms around hook.  
  7. Turn out onto a floured work surface and fold in on itself 4 times.  Turn into a lightly greased bowl and cover with a towel.  Allow to rise for one hour.  While waiting, move onto the filling

Ingredients for Filling:

  • 7 browned bananas, mashed into a paste
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon

Directions for Filling:

  1. Place all ingredients in a bowl and stir together until fully incorporated
  2. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit in fridge while rolling out cinnamon rolls

Ingredients for Icing and Topping:

  • 1/4 cup cream cheese, softened
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 cups confectioner's sugar
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped or crushed

Assembly and Directions for Icing:

  1. When dough is finished resting, punch down and turn back out onto floured work surface
  2. Cut in half and place one half to the side
  3. Roll out other half into a 12"x9" rectangle
  4. Using a rubber spatula, spoon half of the banana filling onto the dough
  5. Roll the dough onto itself, lengthwise and tuck edge underneath the log
  6. Using floss, twine, or a careful and sharp knife, cup one-inch rounds from dough
  7. Place onto a cookie sheet to rest
  8. Repeat with other half of dough with remaining banana filling
  9. Cover rolls with a towel and rest for 45 minutes
  10. In the meantime, preheat oven to 350*F
  11. When finished resting, place in oven (either use cookie sheet, or transfer rolls to pans like I did in the photos) and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until golden (begin checking at the 35 minute mark)
  12. While baking, make icing by beating cream cheese, butter, and vanilla together.  Add one cup of confectioner's sugar at a time.  If icing is too crumbly, add a little bit of milk to wet it.  Continue alternating between cups of confectioner's sugar and milk until you have the consistency of the icing you like (pourable, but not dripping)
  13. Take rolls out of oven, allow to cool slightly, and top with icing and walnuts.  Enjoy!

This post was sponsored by my friends over at Red Star Yeast, which is a company I have grown up with and loved ever since I began baking.  All opinions are my own, as I consider the Platinum line of yeast to be a superior choice for the recipe provided. See more wonderful baked goods on their Twitter, their Instagram, or just their website!